Holiday Food Safety – Prevent Food Poisoning

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Provided by Prince William County Fire & Rescue

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With the holidays just around the corner, many individuals and groups have begun planning their holiday parties to include food and beverages. Each year, one in six Americans become ill by consuming contaminated foods or beverages – that’s approximately 48 million people who become sick from food-borne illnesses; 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. A food-borne disease or illness, also known as food poisoning, is the result of poor handling of food, improper cooking or inadequate storage of food.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) (, there are more than 250 food-borne diseases most of which are infections caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals. PWL Although Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli are the most recognizable of these infections, Salmonella is the most common cause of food poisoning.

The effects of food poisoning can vary depending on the amount of exposure, your age and your health. The ten most common signs and symptoms of food poisoning are:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • High temperature
  • Sweating
  • Dehydration
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • The chills

Most individuals affected by food poisoning will recover without any lasting effects from their illness but for some the effects can be devastating and evenly deadly. Serious long-term effects associated with some types of food poisoning are:

  • Kidney failure
  • Chronic arthritis
  • Brain and nerve damage
  • Death

Groups considered as high risk for food poisoning are:

  • Older adults whose immune system may not respond as quickly and as effectively to infectious organisms as a younger adult’s immune system.
  • Pregnant women due to changes in metabolism and circulation.
  • Infants and young children whose immune systems haven’t fully developed.
  • People with chronic diseases/conditions such as diabetes, liver disease or AIDS or people receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer, reduces their immune response.

Fruits & Vegetables

Although Americans view meat as a health safety threat, fruits and vegetables are most common sources of foodborne illnesses not meat, eggs and seafood. Because fresh produce is uncooked, it becomes susceptible to contamination when coming into contact with people, food, mostly anything.

USDA’s Four Basic Food Safety Messages

To protect you and your family from contracting a food-borne illness, best practices is to follow the Department of Agriculture’s four basic food safety messages — clean, separate, cook and chill:

  •  Clean
    • Wash hands and work surfaces well and often.
  • Separate
    • Keep raw meat and poultry apart from cooked foods to prevent cross-contamination.
  •  Cook
    • Use a food thermometer to ensure meats are safely cooked.
  • Chill
    • Refrigerate or freeze leftovers if it’s not going to be eaten within 2 hours.
    • Keep cold foods cold (40°F or lower) and hot foods hot (140°F or higher).
    • Remove bones from large pieces of meat or poultry and divide them into smaller portions before storing.
    • When in Doubt, Throw It Out
      • Discard perishable food that has sat at room temperature for more than two hours. You can’t tell by looks, smells or taste if food is contaminated.
      • Examples of perishable foods are meats, poultry, fish, cooked vegetables, dairy products and eggs.

Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue Chief Kevin McGee would like to remind families, during the holidays and throughout the year, how special occasions are cherished moments we spend with our families and friends. So, whether you’re preparing and/or serving food, please take the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of your loved ones while providing a lasting and favorable event.

For more information on food safety, visit Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration


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